Candide Chapter 20 Summary
by Voltaire

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Chapter 20 Summary

“What happened to Candide and Martin at sea”

Candide and Martin, the old scholar, set sail for Bordeaux. Both men have lived through and seen much suffering, so even if their ship were traveling around the world they would not run out of conversation about the realities of physical and moral evil.

Candide is better off than Martin in one respect, for he has the hope of seeing his beloved Cunégonde again while Martin has nothing for which to hope. Though Candide does not have the riches he once had, he still has some gold and diamonds. So, though the tragedies which have befallen him still cause him pain, when he speaks about Cunégonde and remembers what he has in his pockets, Candide once again believes in Pangloss’s philosophy.

He asks Martin what he believes about moral and physical evil, and Martin confesses that he is a Manichean (one who believes in pure reason, that life on earth is unbearably painful and radically evil and that knowledge is the only way to heaven). Candide says Martin must be kidding him, as there are no more Manicheans left in the world. Martin claims he has spoken the truth; though he does not know what to do, he cannot think any differently. Candide suggests that perhaps he is possessed by the devil.

Martin agrees that Satan meddles enough in the affairs of this world that he may as well be inside him just as he is everywhere. Though it is painful for him to say, Martin believes that God has abandoned this world to some evil being. The exception, of course, is El Dorado. Every other town Martin has seen is trying to destroy its neighboring town, and every family desires to ruin another family. The weak all despise the strong, though they grovel at their feet; and the strong treat the weak as sheep to be sold and used. A million paid mercenaries march across Europe, performing “disciplined murder and robbery to earn their bread,” and it is seen as the most honest profession. In the more peaceful cities, where the arts flourish, men are more consumed by worry, jealousy, and anxiety than the men in cities which are besieged by an army. “Private sorrows are more bitter than public suffering.” Because he has seen and suffered so much, Martin is a Manichean.

When Candide asserts that there is good to be found in this, Martin says he cannot see it if there is. During their conversation, they hear a cannon shot. Soon the noise grows louder and closer, and the men see through their spyglasses that two ships are in a battle. The wind brings the ships close enough that Candide and Martin have an excellent view. Finally, one ship sinks the other, and they see...

(The entire section is 720 words.)